- Former England U20 captain Alex Gray aims to develop through sevens
- Back row will make England Sevens debut in Dubai
Former England Under 20 captain Alex Gray retains lofty ambitions in the 15-a-side game and believes involvement in Simon Amor’s burgeoning Sevens programme is the vehicle to deliver them.
Gray led a bumper age-grade crop including Owen Farrell, Joe Launchbury, Mako Vunipola and Christian Wade with distinction but stalled after joining London Irish from Newcastle Falcons for the 2011/2012 season.
The 22 year-old is fully committed to success in the shorter form of the game – evidenced by six months of hard graft to get to the requisite level of fitness – and appreciates its developmental, high-pressure aspects.
“The way I see it is that it is a great development tool for a player, I’m still pretty young and I think sevens is something that my game is suited to,” said the 2011 Junior World Championship finalist.
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“I’d like to give it a try at the highest level with big competitions coming up – the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics in a couple of years. I’ve seen players come through the sevens programme and go back to the 15s game and really make an impact. People like Tom Croft, who plays in the back row, has obviously gone on to Lions honours.
“Sevens is rugby down to its basics, everything is under a microscope. Your core skills of tacking, passing, identifying space are all the type of things that you use in the 15s game. It’s magnified and puts all your skills under pressure. And I’ll start having to cope in a high-pressure environment that is sevens – if you make a mistake it’s normally points against you – that’s what I need to get used to.”
And Gray’s take on the eye-opening, lung-burning, lactic acid-inducing fitness sessions? Flying wing Dan Norton, top scorer on the HSBC Sevens World Series last season with 52 tries, once broke Jonny Wilkinson’s anaerobic England Rugby Fitness Test record twice in quick succession.
He said: “These guys are really, really fit. I would’ve considered myself quite fit as a 15s guy, but they’re on another level. They are true professionals in this squad and you can see the benefits it has in their scores in the fitness tests and in games and training. It’s been something I’ve had to catch up with and it’s been tough at times, but I’m feeling a lot better for it.”
Gray has achieved his first goal – to be involved in England’s Sevens side at the highest level – after head coach Amor named him in the 12-man group for the Dubai Sevens, which starts on November 28.
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England were inconsistent last season, winning the tournament in Wellington but ending up competing the second-rate bowl competition on six occasions before finally finishing in sixth place overall.
Ahead of his debut next weekend, Gray outlined the need for consistency in the far-flung places on the circuit to leave them in a position to go for glory when the series culminates with two UK-based events in May next year.
“A win in Dubai would be great but what we’ve decided as group is that consistency is key,” he added. “The team that won the series last year, New Zealand, were either in the semi final or final of every tournament while I think they only won one or two themselves.
“We want to stay in the top four and pick up points in every single tournament and hopefully come back home for the two last tournaments in Scotland and London to try and lift the title.”